Sunday, June 26, 2011
On getting a college education . . . down with the 'UnCollege' movement
Chicago Sun Times and Huffington Post columnist Esther Cepeda had an interesting column last week. She wrote about the value of a college education and how some some people feel it's just not worth the money or the effort nowadays. These people have started what is often referred to as "UnCollege" movement. Their mantra is that you're better off without college, so why bother with all those debts and student loans.
For the record, the "UnCollege movement" began gaining traction among teens with its message that differentiation is the key to success. Launched in January 2011, UnCollege promotes self-directed, college-level home schooling tailored to a student's unique needs and interests. The front page of www.uncollege.org offers a tantalizing proposition: "With 70.1 percent of high school graduates going to college, a college degree no longer guarantees success. ... You can create your education by leveraging the resources of the world around you."
Perhaps, this is true if you have the resources or a big sponsor, but I doubt it. My position is, nothing can take the place of a solid college education to ensure economic and professional success.
Cepeda opened her piece by talking about Peter Thiel's effort to pay 24 teenagers $100,000 to drop out or delay college and start businesses in such diverse areas as biotechnology, finance, energy and education. Thiel, was an early investor in a little Web startup called Facebook, so he has money and can sponsor these students' dive into entrepreneurship. Cepeda writes that Thiel believes a college education isn't as intellectually rigorous as it once was and costs too much, and that burdensome student loans keep recent grads from taking the entrepreneurial risks needed to spur our economy. Agree, but Thiel's alternative will cost a lot more money to achieve and is not general enough to make an impact on the future of our county. In brief, it and "UnCollege" movement are short-sighted and elitist.
Cepeda, however, says we must pay attention to Thiel's point of view.
"Whether you agree or not, Thiel, himself a juris doctor, has done students and parents a favor by publicizing frequent criticisms of today's higher education system, hopefully spurring honest conversations about what anyone can reasonably expect from the college experience," Cepeda writes.
I feel that what most Americans expect is simple. We expect support from Congress and our state legislatures who must be made aware that a college education is an investment in our youth and our nation and not a line item on a budget report. We expect them to see beyond the dollar signs of today and peer into the dollar signs of the future. To do anything less would be short-sighted and elitist.
While Cepeda eventually comes full circle in her article and decides Thiel is not correct in his assumption that a college education is not worth the money or effort any more, it troubles me that there are people believing this is true. This "UnCollege" people just don't get it. They are trying to devalue the one thing that can help middle America and minorities to break away from the mold of working in the service economy and becoming leaders.
Who are they kidding? A college education is worth its weight in gold, and mucho más (much more). I remember my mother preaching to me and my sisters how some day we would be college educated. All three of us met her goal and all of us have at least a master's degree. I remember her bragging about my uncle Pete and how he was still in college getting his education. It didn't matter to her that Tío Pete had been at the University of Texas for 20 years, he was in college, she would proudly proclaim. Today he is a proud Longhorn, as is my daughter. Both have degrees from the University of Texas.
A college education is what will get you a job, nowadays. You may not get a job in your chosen field, but a college education will get a you a job. Most companies are looking for people who are intelligent, well read, can take a project and complete and then be able to write about it in reports. They are also looking for people with critical thinking skills, the ability to work in groups and those with decision-making ability. All these things are honed in college.
You can not go through a university - any university in our nation - without having to encounter all those items I mentioned above. A college education will prepare you for work, just about any where short of a rocket scientist of heart surgeon. When employees ask for education level, they are trying to see how far you get on the education totem pole. If they see a potential employee has a bachelor's degree, they almost immediately know they are more than likely dealing with a person of character, a person who has stick-to-itness and a person who, once committed to do something, will work hard to accomplish his or her goals. That's what a college education and a bachelor's degree says about a person. A college education is your ticket to get in the door, be interviewed and have a shot at a decent job and living. Of course, once the door is opened, you are on your own. That's life. But, chances are, you'll be ready.
There are those in higher education circles that say our universities - especially a regional university like Texas A&M-Kingsville - lack rigor and that those who graduate from them are simply not ready and did not learn.
Regional public universities like Texas A&M-Kingsville are all about the opportunity to get a quality higher education. Texas A&M-Kingsville serves South Texas. Texas A&M-Kingsville serves the rural communities or hamlets like Premont, Concepcion, Freer, Riviera, Sarita, Hebbronville, San Diego, Aransas Pass, Robstown, Ingleside and those little towns in the Rio Grande Valley, those south of the metropolitan areas of San Antonio and Houston and those down the Rio Grande toward Del Rio. Texas A&M-Kingsville gives students in this area - whether they be Hispanic or Anglo, black or white, have indigenous roots or an Asian background - the opportunity to learn.
And, you can't tell me that, when they leave these universities like Texas A&M-Kingsville, students don't know more about life, politics, economics and education then they knew when they left their humble home or ranch in their hometown to seek a college education. I feel this "UnCollege" movement is just part of the wave to put down higher public education just at a time when it is needed the most. It is happening at a time when more and more Hispanics are seeking a college education. Oh, okay, so education was all the rage when the Hispanic was not going to college, but now it's no good. Baloney! You can't put a price on public higher education. Instead of bemoaning the fact that it's not good any more, invest in it and give your money to people who want to learn and contribute to the country.
Entrepreneurship is wonderful. Some people are cut out for that and do not need a college education. But, the truth is that most of us are not cut from that mold. We need something to jump start us and give us the confidence to go out and succeed in life and try new adventures. A college education gives you that. It gives a person an opportunity to learn, experiment and then to try, to try to be anything in the world he or she desires. The higher you go up on the educational totem pole - i.e. master's degree, a doctorate, medical or law degree - the better off you will be. I know this for a fact. I've seen it with my own eyes. My college classmates have gone on to do great things. They have been everything from generals, to college presidents, syndicated columnists, judges, lawyers, educators, superintendents, state representatives, colonels, etc. Now I get the joy of seeing my students succeed and they are just as ready as my group was in the 1960s and 1970s and much more prepared than we were.
A college education not worth the money? Baloney.
Cepeda writes, ". . . for average students, the traditional path (college) is probably still going to be the best option. In March, MetLife released the results of its annual teacher survey that for the first time included a representative sample of Fortune 1000 business executives. Seventy-seven percent of the business leaders believe there will be few or no career opportunities for students who don't complete some formal education beyond high school."
She then asserts that businesses at every level are looking for degreed employees. She quotes Dan Ryan, principal of Nashville-based Ryan Search and Consulting and a member of the national Society for Human Resource Management as saying, "I was an HR generalist for 12 years in two different industries and saw that more and more companies are starting to rubber-stamp positions with 'college degree required.' Why? Because there are so many degreed applicants available and the fact that someone can get through a collegiate program provides a baseline."
That baseline means that "yes," this person can get the job done. "Yes," this person is highly-motivated, is intelligent and a critical thinker.
No one can ever deny that there will always be those who are intelligent enough, geniuses if you will, like Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook who will be successful without a college degree. And, there will always be child prodigies like Justin Bieber who are just going to be successful. But, for the rest of us, our ticket out of the ties that bind us and our ticket for success lies in obtaining a college degree.
And, in conclusion, I ask myself, "Where would I be without a college degree?" Ask yourself that same question and see what you answer. It may surprise you.